I really should have asked this question a long time ago

An old friend messaged me out of the blue on facebook the other day:

I have a question for you, it has been bothering me for a long time, but recently revived by watching new TV series.

Why does the classic structure of a romance novel and indeed of many many powerful stories & TV series (irresistible feelings for eachother, but misunderstanding, each thinks the other doesn’t want them, ultimately resolved in a great sense of relief and euphoria) appeal so much more to one gender than to the other?
OK maybe it only *seems* to appeal more to women than to men. And lots of men like Jane Austen and As You Like It. BUT. The relationship between Mal and Inara in firefly is in my head ALL DAY and keeps me all suspenseful and heart in my mouth each episode… doesn’t seem to have the same kind of itch or hold over Ben.
Would love your thoughts on this!!

My first reaction was: Wow. I really should have thought more about this before now. And my second reaction was to make up a bunch of science:

Not something I’ve thought a lot about, oddly enough, but my gut reaction is something like:

Women are powerfully interested in human relationships, and specifically in romantic relationships (and obviously this is massively simplifying/reductive). I assume this is part conditioning – we’re socialised to care about relationships, and until very recent history to judge our worth by our relationships – and part biology. There must be some biological urge to create safe, lasting environments for raising children, which means finding a partner with certain qualities. I.e. alone is bad, with man is good.

Men are stereotypically more drawn to action/adventure, which also has a classic story structure (similar to romance, but with a different end goal, more external rather than internal obstacles, etc.). So it’s really just what holds the interest of each gender.

Obviously personal relationships and love are super important to lots of men in real life.

My personal theory is that love/kissing/romance is private and personal it’s something you DO in real life, not something you externalise and obsess over. Action/adventure is completely fantastical and therefore an escapist form of entertainment you can get lost in. Whereas female fantasy is much more wrapped up in romance for the very non-scientific reasons I said above.

Hope that gives you some new thoughts to shed light on the matter!

So, seriously, why DOES romance grab women so much harder than it does men?

Comments 6 Responses

  1. Cheryl Nekvapil

    Let’s ask a man! Males seem to be more likely to be drawn to video/computer games — so your theory of action and bodily feats seems pretty much a plausible reason, and it could be that many men are not so literate about their feeling life, something that is coming into the domain of education in order to deal with mental well-being. I’ll ask the next man I meet, there are two of them downstairs!

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I have this quote from Ken: “Just because I’m not a big girly pants, doesn’t mean that I don’t have, you know, serious ideas about romance. They just don’t exist in novels about romance.” I think it’s the laboured emphasis on romance that he doesn’t like. However, the romance my friend was really taken with was more of a light sideline romance in an action/adventure tv show, so could be more down Ken’s line. Not sure it would grab him the way it’s grabbed her, but that’s not to say it doesn’t grab some men!

  2. Jen

    I just pulled my husband aside and asked him about this. Andy loves reading fantasy and sci-fi books with plenty of fighting and drama. He likes a dash of romance in there too, but he doesn’t want it to be the focus of the story. He’s not interested in internal conflict, it bores him. Which is why, he says, he doesn’t read philosophy books. Who cares? Me: Okay…
    You mentioned privacy earlier, and I think that’s a part of it too. It could also be that the majority of romances have the most unbelievable male characters ever. Maybe. Probably.
    Oh, also, when Andy and I were first dating he filled up a notebook with love poems to me. But he’s not a romantic, he says, because that would mean that he’s naive.
    P.S.We used to watch Firefly together and I totally thought we were equal parts in love with the series (I can’t stop thinking about Mal/Inara either!) but it turned out what he was feeling was more along the lines of, “Eh. It’s okay…” I WAS SHOCKED.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      “It could also be that the majority of romances have the most unbelievable male characters ever.” – this made me laugh so much. Er, yes, that could definitely be a reason! πŸ™‚

      1. Jen

        P.P.S.: Andy tells me that I misquoted him. He reads philosophy books when he WANTS to read internal conflict and he IS a naive romantic. >.> Whoops. πŸ˜›

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